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NESRI statement on internships and the human right to work with dignity

Since its inception, NESRI has relied on the hard work and dedication of countless unpaid interns who have strengthened our organization through their contributions, many going on to use their experiences here to help them as they navigate their career paths and leadership within social justice movements.  NESRI strives to make sure that everyone who interns with us gains valuable on-the-job experience, builds relationships, and has an opportunity to engage in intentional political education. As an economic and social rights organization, we are committed to making sure that our internships are in line with our principles and the human right to work with dignity, and in all of our work, hold ourselves accountable not just to legal standards, but to higher moral standards.

Internships are a major part of today’s nonprofit sector. At their best, they can be a learning experience that give people building their careers a chance to learn and to make connections, furthering their personal growth and their careers, while at the same time furthering their host organization’s work. At their worst, they can be an exploitative precursor to paid work that requires people to work without pay in order to gain access to a profession, and bars those who cannot afford to work for free from entry. As a human rights organization straddling movement and professionalized nonprofit spaces, we have a responsibility for operating our internship program in accordance with human rights principles, and we recognize that there is a tension and a possible conflict between our vision for the human right to work with dignity and our unpaid internships. Whereas much social movement work is unfunded, we recognize that the growth of unpaid internships in nonprofits is part of a larger shift in all employment sectors toward freelance, contingent, and temporary labor that is creating widespread economic insecurity and denies many their economic and social rights to healthcare, housing, education, and other human needs. We also recognize that there is a growing movement opposing the use of unpaid internships led by current and former interns as well as those who have been shut out of internships and denied the opportunities they can provide. We are now in the process of evaluating our internship program to make sure that it is aligned with our mission and our values.